In the wake of his competitors rolling out their House supporters, presidential hopeful Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) made a private gambit last week for an endorsement from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Sources said Gephardt, in town for a short time last week before heading to Iowa and New Hampshire for some campaign stops, sought the meeting with Pelosi as pressure mounts to defend his own turf. The session with Pelosi came on the eve of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) rolling out endorsements from 10 House Democrats last week.
Gephardt has been vying for Pelosi’s endorsement, and some Democratic insiders speculate she will eventually give it to him. But Pelosi, who also met with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean last week, has thus far refused to throw her support to anyone.
“She’s not ready to make an endorsement,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “There are lots of good candidates. She’s not making an announcement any time soon.”
Sources familiar with the Pelosi-Gephardt session said the two met for about a half-hour, and Gephardt once again made his pitch to his successor as Minority Leader.
“We’d very much like her support,” said one Gephardt adviser. “Whenever he’s in town — every three weeks to a month — he likes to talk to her and update her on the race.”
“I think he asks for her support every time he sees her,” the Gephardt adviser added.
One Democratic leadership aide said of the session: “Whenever he wants to see her, she’s going to see him. If he calls and says he’s going to be in town and wants to see her, obviously she’ll see him.”
Gephardt is hoping that Pelosi will serve as the icing on his looming rollout of House supporters, which his aides are vowing will shatter the numbers of the other candidates. By getting the House leadership on board, from Pelosi on down, Gephardt would show strength in numbers as well as stature.
“She’s more important than anybody,” said the Gephardt adviser. “She’s the leader.”
Gephardt, who has been courting dozens of colleagues for weeks, appears to be stepping up his effort in the wake of Lieberman’s announcement last week. The 10 House Members who endorsed Lieberman included two former members of Gephardt’s inner circle.
Dean’s presidential campaign, meanwhile, last week won the endorsement of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
When word first trickled out that Lieberman would be revealing his list of Congressional supporters, Gephardt aides said the Missouri lawmaker felt no pressure to announce his list of House backers. Gephardt said they were in no rush to reveal his supporters, refusing to lay out a time table for the list.
Later last week, however, Gephardt told The Associated Press that he would “soon” be unveiling a list of House endorsements.
One Democratic leadership aide said Pelosi is very fond of Gephardt, but also wants to meet with the other candidates. Outside of Dean and Gephardt, Pelosi has not had formal sit-downs with the other candidates.
One senior Democratic aide said Pelosi may be waiting to lend her support to Gephardt until after the war in Iraq has concluded, given the fact that they differ on the conflict. Gephardt has been one of the most high-profile Democratic supporters of the war, while Pelosi has made no bones about her opposition.
“There’s no doubt the Gephardt people would like to roll out the leadership [support] in a unified way,” the senior aide said.
Gephardt has already met with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who also has yet to make an endorsement. Democratic insiders speculate that Hoyer, who is close to Gephardt, is leaning toward backing the former leader.
Another senior Democratic aide said people on Capitol Hill have been waiting to see whether Gephardt’s campaign truly has legs, and endorsements would be a good sign that he has at least some staying power. The staffer added that Gephardt especially needs Pelosi.
“Indeed, it would be quite embarrassing if the former leader of the House Democrats who in his last year as leader had Pelosi as his Whip would not get her support,” said the staffer.
Beyond his private session with Pelosi, Gephardt also met last week with the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and asked for its members’ support. Gephardt is also trying to set up meetings with other Democratic groups.
Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas), a senior Blue Dog, declined to disclose any details of the group’s meeting with Gephardt. “We don’t comment on private meetings,” he said.
The Blue Dogs are not expected to issue their seal of approval as a group on a single candidate, though members of the group may issue endorsements on their own.